Today, the House of Representative passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a piece of legislation that if signed into law, could radically transform the voting right landscape of the nation. Earlier this year, the communications team from Advancement Project National Office had a chance to sit down with Edward A. Hailes Jr. to discuss the legislation and the impact it could have on Black & Brown communities. Listen to the interview and read the transcript below to learn more.
Jeralyn Cave: This is Jeralyn Cave of Advancement Project and I am here with General Council and Managing Director Edward A. Hailes, Jr. and we’re discussing H.R. 1, the For The People Act. The bill was introduced in the 116th Congress and this past week the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill. Good afternoon!
Edward A. Hailes: Good afternoon. Good to be with you.
Cave: Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What is H. R. 1? And What does it do?
Hailes: H.R. 1 is a package of voting reforms that will make it easier for people to vote and overcome the historic barriers that stand in the way of having a more diverse and inclusive electorate.
Cave: What are some of the measures included in the bill?
Hailes: We have the restoration of rights for people with past felony convictions, we have affirmative voter registration ways, there are ways to standardize some of the administrative requirements for the bill, and a number of other huge improvements to the way our democracy currently works. The current structure makes it harder for people who are poor and working class to get to polling places and make their votes counts. So, this is a big improvement.
Cave: What are some of the voting rights challenges and barriers to the ballot box that you see right now for communities of color?
Dr. Hailes: Voter registration and once people register, staying on the rolls without being purged, and then showing up on election day and then facing very restrictive voter ID requirements. The times and hours that people can vote are blocked when states remove their early voting opportunities. So, there are number of barriers we see in our work that people are confronted with every day.
Cave: So, this bill would make a big difference for communities of color who have been traditionally been targeted by some legislation and policies that intentionally make it harder for them to vote.
Hailes: It would overcome historic barriers to voting. It would make it easier for people who have been left out, let down, and locked out from not being able to participate fully, and make their votes count at polling places around the country.
Cave: During the hearing, you may have heard many opponents of the bill who basically have said that this bill is a power grab and takes power away from democratically elected state officials and puts it in the hands of the federal government and essentially is very anti-democratic and not really for the people. What’s your response to that?
Hailes: First of all, those of us in the civil right community have heard this state’s rights arguments over the years and that generally meant that these arguments to keep people who are historically disenfranchised to remain disenfranchised. The constitution puts in the hands of Congress time, place, and manner requirements when it comes to election administration. So, this bill is line with their election prerogatives and responsibilities, and indeed it’s a way, as the bill says, to make voting for the people.
Cave: Do you think that some states have intentionally used their power to make it harder for Black and Brown communities to vote, and what type of things have you all seen in your experience?
Hailes: Definitely states have done that. We’ve seen that in the former slave states that make it impossible virtually for people with past felony convictions to participate in our democracy, we see it. We see it with these restrictive voter ID requirements erected. We see it with the discretionary authority of election officials to remove people from the voting rolls, and we see it when people cut back on early voting, and third-party voter registration opportunities. There are a number of ways in which states that have manipulative partisan motivations make it harder for people to vote.
Cave: So last question for you. In this moment what should people be doing to support the principles of the bill and what is AP doing to work behind the scenes or in front of the scenes to support some of the principles at the state level in the work?
Hailes: Our hope is that people will be inspired and encouraged, that members of Congress that are lifting up people will be inspired and encouraged, and that members of Congress are lifting up these election reforms at this time. You should communicate them with other people who will get behind them and support members of Congress who support their right to vote. Advancement Project will continue to work with members of Congress as invited and encouraged to provide analysis and provide examples that we see from our work on the ground every day.
Cave: Thank you so much; this has been really informative. Great Speaking with Dr. Hailes.
Hailes: And thank you so much Ms. Cave.
You can also listen to the interview.